The wanton and dastardly killing of S P Mahantesh, a 48-year-old officer of the Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS), close on the heels of the snuffing out of another upright government functionary Narendra Singh in Bihar, is a disquieting knock on our increasingly insensitive conscience; a pointed reminder of the moral decay that afflicts our society; a relentless march downwards that leads to a topsy-turvy world of warped values wherein honesty cannot walk with its head held high but is forced to cower with shame and fright in the darkest den to preserve the last vestige of its existence.
Mahantesh, deputy director of Cooperative Audit, was of the notion that ‘the only way to fight corruption is through transparency’and had for the last six months been engaged in highlighting rampant irregularities in land allotment in the state; a malpractice designed to benefit influential individuals that included political leaders, IAS and KAS officers. While the motive for his murder remains to be ascertained, it would be naïve to overlook a causal relationship between his crusading activities and his demise.
Such ghastly incidents have become the norm in recent times. Our real life heroes, young idealistic officers committed to enforcing the law have paid with their lives for their high-mindedness, making the task of upholding truth and justice a fatal liability in an increasingly corrupt nation. In 2003, Satyendra Dubey, a 30-year-old IIT-trained engineer working with the National Highways Authority of India, who had been waging a dogged battle against corruption, was brutally murdered allegedly at the behest of a road contract mafia: a charge that was never officially proved, but one that stubbornly lingers on bolstered by the mysterious deaths of several key witnesses. In 2005, another champion of honesty, 27-year-old Shanmugam Manjunath, an IIM and IIT graduate, functioning as a marketing manager of Indian Oil Corporation was gunned down by employees of a delinquent petrol pump that he had castigated. And last year, an officer of the rank of an additional district collector, Yashwant Sonawane was burnt alive by goons of a local oil mafia near Manmad in Maharashtra.
These motivated killings serve a dual purpose. Apart from silencing officers who impede nefarious activities, they send out a chilling message: a warning to other dedicated officers to desist from altruistic intervention lest they desire the same fate. In short, it is an attempt to sully the environment to such an extent that honesty becomes a trait to be eschewed and honest officials, individuals to be shunned.
If this wayward tendency is not curbed promptly, it will spell the demise of society as we know it. Lawlessness will prevail, undesirable and unqualified elements will rule the roost, and standards in all aspects of society will plummet, leading to state of retrogression.
Government is responsible for ensuring the safety of officials executing their duties. But in an era of increasing criminality of politics, governments stand compromised and are suspect: they either drag their feet or prefer to look the other way. Therefore, it is imperative that civil society steps in to act as a watchdog ever alert to tweak the ears of errant governments that deviate from their brief.
Transitory indignation will not suffice. It is the duty of all right-thinking Indians to continually raise voice against all depravity. Honesty must become a badge of honour not the liability it now represents. Judicious selection of lawmakers, perpetual vigilance and relentless pressure on governments to rein in wrongdoers must become our self-imposed mandates, constituting a systematic strategy to cleanse our public life and ensure that upright officers are not reduced to mortality statistics for their probity. If we do so, the lives of Satyendra Dubey, Shanmugam Manjunath, Yashwant Sonawane, Narendra Kumar Singh and Mahantesh will not have been lost in vain.
;The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own